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learning cameras and layout

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learning cameras and layout

Can anyone recommend a good book or website to learn about cameras and layout? I am particularly interested in this for animation purposes. I am having a hard time with my staging and I think learning more about cinematography would help me out.

The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video is a good low cost down and dirty book on cinematography.
The Five C's of Cinematography is an older book with slightly technical approach on the subject

Shot by Shot takes a more modern approach and is a very good book.

You can't go wrong with any of the three and what works in film and video will work in animation.


Department of Computer Animation
Ringling College of Art and Design
Sarasota Florida

Thanks Ed, you rock!

Reference for Layout and Staging

Though neither book is exactly a "how to" and though they're both pretty expensive, I reckon you would probably get a lot of really helpful ideas and information from:

Pierre Lambert's excellent, magnificently-illustrated book on "Pinocchio"


John Canemaker's "Paper Dreams" - which is all about the history and development of storyboarding at the Disney studios.

Pierre Lambert's book is PACKED with amazing illustrations from the Disney archives, not only of the original pencil artwork of (for example) Gepetto's workshop (a whole variety of scenes and set-ups) - but also of individual "key" poses for Pinocchio himself, as staged and animated by different members of the pioneering character animation team.

You can also make some really useful comparisons (in Lambert's book) between concept artwork, b/w pencil roughs and the finished, full-colour BGs (see what small tweaks are made as the ideas evolve and are fine-tuned) - and then round things off by watching the DVD of the movie with the book next to you for reference.

The same is true for the John Canemaker book - if you watch "Snow White" and check out the relevant pages in "Paper Dreams" as you go you'll be amazed at how much you learn about the thinking that went into every part of the process.

There are also some fantastic Galleries and documentary sequences on some of the better DVDs......

Check out Bluesky's "Ice Age" - in particular the Animation Production/Progression section in the Special Features - which shows (I think) 3 separate sequences with full (4-angle) comparisons between the subsequent stages, from original rough story sketches through "block" posing of CGI stand-ins to the final render of the fully-rigged final models in the completed scenes.

The very best of all (in my view) for Layout/Scene Planning and BG information (with an emphasis on design AND the practical/camera side) is to be found on Disney's double-disc DVD for "Emperor's New Groove".

The Layout Gallery on that is (as the Americans say) AWESOME.
I've used all of the above extensively over the last few years with students in a lot of different years and courses - and the response has always been great (particularly when you see the influence in their work as they begin to absorb the good sense in things like the advice Disney veterans like Colin Stimpson and Tom Baker give in the DVD "behind the scenes" sequences).

Other than that - check out some paintings too....
And Hitchcock movies.....

AND - the Pixar DVDs (and excellent "Art Of" books by Chronicle Books) where you can find amazing staging information in (among others) the stunning and very clear "Color Script" pastels by Ralph Eggleston.

all the very best - hope some of this is helpful,

Penciltown Animation

PS: for live action Cinematography - you should also check out the "Cinematography" book in the EXCELLENT Rotovision "Screencraft" series; this and their book on Art Direction and Production Design both deserve some kind of award for clarity and thoroughness in both research (all based on interviews with the people/artists/technicians themselves) AND choice of illustrations. There isn't a duff book in the whole "Screencraft" series.

Layout Book


The layout book I use in my classes is by Mike Fowler.

It is a good book and is more feature oriented than say, Brian Lemay's book. Brian book is useful but more directed toward TV framing.

Don Bluth and Gary Goldman are comng out with a new book on storyboarding which will be a huge help with layout, too. Look for it soon. I previewed it for them.


Thanks Fraser and Larry, you guys have given me ALOT of good resources. Now it's off to do some reading!

How YOU see the world.....that's what matters

Draw first - read later!


Animation 'Language'

I would recommend two additional books. I would have to look up the authors, so if you can't find them I will.

The Grammer of the Film Edit and
The Grammer of Film Language

The second is quite dense, so you may have to take it in small doses.

I feel strongly that 'film language' does not directly apply to animation. Many things are possible in animation that are used infrequently if at all in live action. If you only study live action your animations will end up looking like animated live action. Since there isn't much published specificallly on the 'language' of animation you will need to study 'film' language, which includes cinematography, editing, directing, etc. AND as has been suggested, study animated films.

It's swell when a 'how to' is provided with a DVD, but nothing beats breaking down the individual shots to see for yourself how the animator did it. A good place to start is with commercials. They are short so they don't take as long. Find a site where you can download a commercial that you like. Then step through frame by frame to see how it's put together. Pay attention to how long each shot is. Look for ways that motion is picked up from one shot to the next. Watch for the 'Gestalt' or where the whole is more than the parts ... where something is implied but not there.

Last but not least, apply what you learn to a project of your own. Then show it to an audience and see if they got (without explaination) what you intended. The only hard and fast 'rule' is whether you communicated and creative folks are always exploring new ways to do that. Use your imagination.

- Marla

The best way to learn cutting/staging, etc. is from your own mistakes. You see things in editing your films that you may not have known to be a problem before editing it. I remember seeing a LOT of errors in some of the first episodes of the first series I was directing, some easily fixable, some not. However, seeing them that first time made me aware of them and I knew to watch for them in the future.

A lot of these books, while very helpful, I am sure, share the author's styles in cutting/staging. That is not to say that other ways are wrong. There are a lot of does and don'ts that you will get from these books that apply to all film, animated or not (jump-cutting, crossing axis, bad cutting, etc.). You need to take what these people have to say in, and experiment for yourself. Trial and error is the BEST way to learn in my books.


"Don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard" - Paul Simon